Pound Cake Project, Part 5

I had originally intended to examine only four recipes but after seeing the dramatic changes between the previous two recipes, my curiosity was piqued and I wanted to see if a modern recipe, from the 21st century, was that much different from the 1950 recipe.  For this, I consulted my vast library of cookbooks and come across a very peculiar recipe that, despite its name, was not at all recognizable as pound cake in its original meaning.  This recipe is found in The America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook, published in 2006.

Classic Pound Cake

Makes one 9-inch loaf
Serves 8 to 10
Prep time: 5 minutes
Total time: 1 hour 10 minutes plus cooling time

This recipe will also make 4 miniature pound cakes: Use four 2-cup mini loaf pans and reduce the baking time to 40 minutes.

1 1/2 cups cake flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups sugar
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter melted and hot

1. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees.  Lightly coat a 9 inch by 5 inch loaf pan with vegetable oil spray, then line the bottom with parchment paper.  Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt together in a large bowl and set aside.

2. Process the sugar, eggs, and vanilla in a food processor until combined, about 10 seconds.  With the machine running, pour the melted butter through the feed tube in a steady stream, about 30 seconds.  Pour the mixture into a large bowl.

3. Sift one-third of the flour mixture over the egg mixture and whisk in (a few streaks of flour should remain).  Repeat twice more with the remaining flour mixture and continue to whisk the batter gently until most lumps are gone (do not overmix).

4. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.  Wipe any drops of batter off the sides of the pan.  Bake until a wooden skewer inserted into the center of the cake comes out with a few crumbs attached, 50 to 60 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through baking.

5. Let the cake cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then flip out onto a wire rack.  Turn the cake right-side up, remove the parchment, and let cool to room temperature, about 3 hours.

What first struck me in this recipe, after the name, is the fact that it calls for melted butter.  This is unlike any other pound cake recipe I had seen until this point.  This cake does not even pretend to get any rise from creaming the butter, it is all left up to the baking powder, in the typical fashion of other modern cakes.   Although the measurements are in volume, as is the standard in the United States today, I measured the ingredients as called for and then weighed them to see how closely they resembled the original ratio.  The weight ratio although slightly biased towards more sugar and less eggs, is relatively close to the original 1:1:1:1 ratio at roughly 1:1:1.22:0.87, butter, flour, sugar, and eggs respectively.

The next thing that struck me was the peculiarity of the preparation.  The recipe calls for the batter to be mixed, at least initially, in a food processor.  The fact that the butter is not creamed with the sugar makes the use of a mixer, which would take longer to achieve the same result, irrelevant.  This mode of preparation has a tremendous effect on the overall complexity and user-friendly characteristic of this recipe.  It takes a process, that would have taken those making pound cake in the 17th century perhaps hours to complete, down to a mere 5 minutes.  This is paramount in our current society when time to cook is becoming more and more scarce.

One last important aspect of this recipe in the context of this project is the startlingly small number of assumption it makes.  The reader/cook is walked step by step through the process as if it was the first time that they had ever baked anything.  This book is not explicitly targeted to beginners so the assumption that it’s targeting a niche of cooks who are inexperienced in the kitchen cannot justifiably be made.  The target audience for this book is “every-woman,” and thus indicate that most don’t know their way around the kitchen and need to be guided as if they had never heard of baking before.

The cake itself was very light for its size and airy, and, according to some of my test subjects, the better tasting of the series. The lightness and airiness are a product of the baking powder but also the melted butter.  The batter for this cake was much more like pancake batter than butter cake batter and this is because by eliminating the creaming of the solid butter, the heaviness of the cake is also eliminated.  As tasty as this cake was, it has much more in common with sponge cakes such as genoise than with pound cake.  The cake was delicious, but it was not classic pound cake and should not claim to be so.

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